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12 Months of Mental health

January 2023 - The Winter Blues

Argh! We missed it!

Monday 16th January is regarded by many as the most depressing day of the year… Blue Monday! It’s the combination of different factors. The weather; Christmas credit card bills; holidays a distant hope away; the wait for payday and the (inevitable) failure of much vaunted and idealistic New Year’s Resolutions! All combined = the phenomenon of Blue Monday!

The truth is, we are more prone to experiencing depressive thinking during the winter months, where a lack of sunlight, bad weather and freezing temperatures influence people to stay inside, wrapped up warm under a blanket! We tend to sleep more (think circadian rhythms and darkness), and binge eat as our bodies crave carbohydrates. We feel irritable and moody and as a result relationships suffer. We experience apathy, are unmotivated and bored. We’re less likely to want to engage with friends or the activities we usually enjoy. What’s worse (if it’s even possible!), the Winter Blues are not an equal opportunity factor – women are 2-4 times more likely to feel depressed during the winter than men, and experience the challenges of it.

If you needed any further depressing the paragraph above will surely have helped… or not!

So what is the solution? Do we succumb to these natural symptoms and rhythms, accept it for what it is, batten down the hatches, put on a brave face and revert to a monotone of ‘I’m fine’ every time were asked if we’re OK? In short, follow all the classic cliches? Or are we deliberately, consciously making an effort to do something positive and make a change in the situation we’re experiencing?

If you’re still reading, we’ll assume that you’ve made a conscious decision!

There are 5 things for you to try… Everyone is different. We think, work and react in different ways and we respond differently to stimulus. By giving you 5 options, there is an increased likelihood of you finding something that works for you!

1) Deep Breathing – in the least helpful sentence in the English language – breathing is important for you! But how we breath makes a difference. Short, shallow breathing increases the amounts of carbon dioxide in your blood, raising stress and anxiety levels. It promotes the fight or flight reflex and can leave you feeling agitated or restless. Being deliberate in choosing to slow your breathing, counting the breathes in and out, helps reduce the levels of CO2, and therefore anxiety and stress. If you use circular breathing – in through the nose, and out through the mouth – this can also help to improve your mood and feelings.

The reality is that breathing matters (obviously), but how we do it, matters even more for our wellbeing and mental health.

2) Practice Mindfulness – The challenge of the winter blues is we can often find ourselves heading into negative places mentally. We can focus on the negatives, catastrophise and paint worse case scenarios unabated. Mindfulness allows us to be present in the moment taking in what is happening around us. Take the time (5 mins) to sit quietly and focus on what is happening around you. What are the sounds you can hear? What are the sensations you can feel? What are the thoughts you’re having? Allow all these things to be present as you sit. If you want to treat yourself, eat a strawberry or piece of chocolate and allow the food to ‘taste’ in your mouth, (rather than biting, chewing and swallowing), take the time to test the texture, enjoy the flavour and reflect on the feel – for this, think Nigella Lawson talking about some form of decadent pudding!

The whole point of mindfulness is about being present in the here and now. The winter blues tend to take us to darker places than we’d ordinarily go, whilst (hopefully) the here and now is much better place to be.

3) Take a break from the news and social media. We live in challenging times. Inflation has hit a 40 year high, the war in Ukraine continues to rage on and the cost of living crisis including strikes across travel, the NHS and teaching impact the nation on a daily basis. We live in a society where bad news sells. There are limited positive stories and this can have a negative impact. By insulating ourselves from this ongoing bad news, even if its for a week or so, we give ourselves an opportunity to balance our emotions and feelings in a way that constantly

being bombarded with information can’t. We all experience FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out – but truth be told, what are we actually fearful of missing out on? If the truth is we’re worried about not hearing the latest bad news, or seeing the most recent funny cat video, perhaps now might be the time to adjust our priorities?

4) Be deliberate - when we’re struggling with the winter blues it can become very easy to drift into unhealthy habits – wrapping ourselves up in a blanket and falling asleep in front of the TV, rather than going to bed. Using the car to go to the shops because it’s wet or cold, rather than walking, or eating additional calories because it’s comforting. All these are entirely understandable and make can be justified. But can we be deliberate in doing something different? If we stick to routines like going to bed and getting up at the same time, we will actually feel better. We take back control of situations, rather than having them control us. They also give us a sense of satisfaction and purpose. Getting on the bike and riding to work when it’s -3oc might sound like a nightmare, but it save de-icing the car, the cost of fuel and you’ll feel better (if not chillier) doing it. It’ll also get the endorphins pumping (the bodies feel good chemicals) and you can get some smug bragging points too… which is nice!!

5) Reach Out – loneliness and isolation tends to exacerbate the impact of the winter blues. If we learned anything from the COVID-19 lockdown experience it was contact with others (often) has a massively positive impact on our mental health. Who are the people who we can rely on when things are difficult or challenging? There is an interesting flip side to this as well… being willing to be someone who others reach out to. This gives us a sense of perspective (about our own situation) as well as purpose. When we’re feeling low, we often question this idea of purpose… ‘what am I even doing?’ Being someone that others speak to, even in our own low mood, can be beneficial. It is worth highlighting that too much of this can be detrimental. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by others.

The winter blues have an impact on all of us, whether we are conscious of it or not. It impacts both our physical and mental health. We can’t do anything about the weather (shy of following the example of the Swallow and heading to the southern hemisphere in our winter months!), but we can do something about our response and choices. Hopefully one or two of these ideas might be helpful, but if they aren’t and you’re still struggling, there is no harm whatsoever in arranging to speak to a professional who can offer help above and beyond this

Over the coming months, we’re going to be focusing on mental health and sharing some helpful tips and hints that will (hopefully) be helpful for you – In February we’re going to be looking at Self-Esteem: The Value of Me!

If you want to hear more or have topics/themes you’d like us to discuss, please don’t hesitate to get in contact at


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